When I woke up on November 11, 2015, I didn’t know how I was going to make it through the next 24 hours. The day stretched out before me like a blistering highway extending across the Midwest. My only goal for the day was to survive, to withstand each exhausting minute.
I broke the morning up into tiny parts. Get out of bed. Get the kids fed. Get the kids dressed. Get everyone in the van. Get Jackson dropped off at preschool. It was a habit born from years of running long distances. The last three or four miles of a twenty miler are often treacherous – I would find myself dehydrated and hungry, covered with layers of sweat and salt, and desperate to be finished. Miles were too long to fathom, so I’d run to the next light post or cow or mailbox up ahead, making slow and steady progress. I completed one small section at a time until I found my way back to the starting point where my weary legs could find their reprieve. On this day, I would wade through hours instead of miles, but the strategy worked just the same.
I dropped Jackson off at preschool and sat in the parking lot trying to decide what to do next. I was teetering between “go back home” and “cry” when a Mother from Jackson’s school walked by the van. She stopped outside my window, and we spoke a few words. Then she mentioned that she was meeting some friends at the park that morning. Would I like to join them?
I thought through a million excuses; there were so many reasons not to go. But I surprised myself when I replied, “Yes, I’ll meet you there in a bit!” It seemed the universe knew what I needed far better than I did.
I left the school and drove down Main Street absorbed in the endless chatter of my mind. I relived the events of the previous day over and over looking for some indication that it was all a hallucination, a joke, a dream, or a page from the book at my bedside. I replayed every aching detail. The doctor’s stoic face – his dark brows stooped with concern as he explained the results of the biopsy. His hands clasped together across his bent knee as he sat discussing my options. The way I fought so hard not to cry before him. The quiver of my chin revealing more than I wanted to expose. I walked through the Land of What If’s feeling a heaviness grow in my heart. What if it has spread? What if there are complications during surgery? For the first time in my life, I felt utterly powerless. There was no action that could change the journey I was starting.
We arrived at the park and I unbuckled Parker’s seat belt and lifted him out of the van. I held his tiny hand in my own as we wandered over to the playground equipment. He climbed ladders and went down slides, and as I watched him that morning, I pretended to be someone else. I pretended that the doctor had not diagnosed me with thyroid cancer the day before. I pretended that I wasn’t scared out of my mind. I pretended that I had slept soundly the night before. I pretended that the kids and I had laughed together at breakfast and then cheerfully paraded out the door to start this beautiful, fresh new day. I asked the other Moms questions about their lives and their children. I listened to plans for dinner parties and potty training woes and for the entire morning, I pretended my life was not my own. I hid from the truth right in plain sight.
It was exactly what I needed.
There would be other days to come to terms with it all, to absorb my new course and to talk with family and friends about it. But the day after, I needed to pretend that none of it was true. Amazingly, I stumbled upon a group of women, most of them strangers, who could let that happen. They carried me through a few of the longest hours of my life.
Weeks ago, while returning some books at the library, I ran into the same Mom from that November morning. I had not seen her in months. We waved to each other and talked a few minutes before we were pulled in opposite directions by our young children. As we said our good-byes, it struck me that she will never know how much her invitation helped me that day. She will never know that her kindness allowed me to escape my unraveling world and my scattered mind for a few precious hours.
While she may never know, I suspect this story will travel with me for a lifetime. It will stay with me, reminding me to believe in the power of time and space weaving souls together. It will remind me that the simplest of moments are often the most profound; the smallest of actions are mighty indeed. And, most of all, it will remind me God is all around us, tucked away in people’s hearts and nestled in the smallest acts of kindness.
How else would we ever find our weary way through the day after?